Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nettles and Hedgehogs

Despite the crazy and erratic weather that has been raining down on the Pacific Northwest, spring is definitely in its early stages. One of the early spring bloomers here in the Willamette Valley is the Oso Berry or Indian Plum, Oemleria cerasiformis. A rather diminutive shrub in the rose family, this species is endemic to the area and is not found anywhere else. The small drooping flowers of this Oregon native are a sure indication that winter is drawing to an end. I took the picture below last year at the end of February.

Osoberry or Indian Plum
 Spring is one of my favorite seasons here in the Pacific Northwest, and its a wonderful time to be out foraging in the woods. Two of the most tasty edible foods I seek out in the spring are the tenderly delicious hedgehog mushroom, Hydnum repandum, and the lush and amazing Urtica dioica, more commonly known as stinging nettle. 
I picked these last year in March in the Mid-coastal Siuslaw Watershed
Hedgehog mushrooms are one of the easiest and safest mushrooms to identify, with the golden chanterelle like color, distinct lack of gills and presence of lots of little "teeth". The Cascade Mycological Society is a valuable 501(c)(3) organization in Oregon with some valuable information about hunting edible fungi.

Firm, and tender, nettles are perhaps my all time favorite and common and easy to identify spring green, at least, once you get stung you'll be positive. The smell of nettles is fresh and green (if you smell a heavier, almost stinky smell when harvesting, you may want to make sure you aren't picking a Stachys, which has a similar look) and the flavor is very mild and less acidic tasting than spinach because it doesn't contain the oxalates that spinach does. Nettles are rich in minerals and nutrients and can be a great source of non heme iron, but as with any wildcrafted or foraged food, you'll want to make reasonably sure you are collecting from a safe, relatively clean, non-contaminated area. To collect, I usually just gather the fresh young tops, wearing a protective glove, of course.

Hedgehogs mushrooms and nettles can be cooked and enjoyed in a variety of ways. My favorite is a creamy soup! Internet recipes abound for these two culinary beauties; Hedgehogs can be used in most recipes that call chanterelles and the same works for nettles and spinach. 

And it turns nettles are not just a great and nutritional wild food. They can also be processed for their fiber content. Some of the most beautiful, natural, organic fabrics I have seen were made from nettles. Check out these links below to see some Independent Artistry on Etsy featuring nettles:

Organic Nettle Fiber shawl

Nettle Linen Hand Spun Yarn

Nettle Yarn BareFoot Sandals

 Ask questions! Stay informed!

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